The British and Irish lions training in Queenstown earlier this week. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES
By Jake Beleski
While All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has backed youth to get the job done, Lions counterpart Warren Gatland has stuck with the tried and true.
The Lions have named an unchanged 23-man squad for the third and final test against the All Blacks at Eden Park tomorrow, showing loyalty to the players who levelled the series with a 24-21 win in Wellington last weekend.
It is the first time since 1993 that the Lions have named the same side for two consecutive test matches, and Gatland acknowledged there would be some disappointed players.
“We felt we should reward the players for the result and the courage that they showed in coming from behind from 18-9 down, digging themselves out of a hole and then finishing strongly in that last 10 to 15 minutes.
“There are some players who are pretty disappointed not to be selected and I understand that, but we have stressed all along that this is not all about the 23 players but about everyone in the squad.”
The retention of Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell in the inside backs means the Lions are well-equipped to deal with whatever weather may confront them tomorrow night.
Rain is forecast throughout the day, which could result in another tight contest in which goal-kicking becomes vital.
The All Blacks have a decision to make in that regard, after Beauden Barrett missed some important kicks that could have won the series last weekend.
His younger brother Jordie has been elevated to the starting line-up for the biggest match of his young career, and has been doing the goal kicking for the Hurricanes all season.
The All Blacks have spoken of their frustration at not being able to impose their attacking qualities on the series so far, and with the team they have selected you would have to think they will be hoping for better conditions than those experienced in the capital.
Ngani Laumape’s first start in the No 12 jersey gives a clear indication the selectors are banking on their attack clicking into gear this week, after the one-man wrecking ball was found out on defence on a couple of occasions last weekend.
Gatland said he was expecting nothing less than an All Blacks “backlash” in tomorrow’s match, but was also excited for his players.
“The pleasing thing about the second test is just how strong we were in the last 10 or 15 minutes, in terms of energy and enthusiasm so we still feel there is another level in us.
“This is a huge chance for this group of players to show their abilities and reap the benefits of the work everyone has put in — it is their chance to make Lions history.” — With NZME
Jordie Barrett, Israel Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (c), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden, Malakai Fekitoa.
Liam Williams, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Davies, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, Taulupe Faletau, Sean O’Brien, Sam Warburton (c), Alun Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje, Tadhg Furlong, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola. Reserves: Ken Owens, Jack McGrath, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, CJ Stander, Rhys Webb, Ben Te’o, Jack Nowell.
Referee: Romain Poite (France).